U.S. based cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller(reuters_tickers)
By Julia Harte
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawyers for U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen said on Friday they feared attacks on his life following Turkey's demands that he be extradited to face allegations that he ordered a failed coup against the government last month.
The lawyers said they expected Gulen, who has denied any involvement in the July 15 coup attempt, will remain in his remote mountain compound in Pennsylvania.
"We have read concerns from Turkey that Mr. Gulen, this elderly, frail religious leader, is going to flee to another country," said Steptoe & Johnson LLP attorney Reid Weingarten on Friday, calling such allegations "absurd."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames Gulen for the violence, in which Erdogan said 237 people were killed excluding the plotters and more than 2,100 wounded, and said the United States should extradite him to Turkey. The U.S. government has not done so, creating tension between the two allies.
Turkey, a member of the NATO alliance, hosts American troops and warplanes at Incirlik Air Base, an important staging area for the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
At a news conference in Washington, Weingarten and Michael Miller, another Steptoe attorney, said evidence from a 2015 case financed by the Turkish government against Gulen in U.S. federal court in Pennsylvania showed that the Turkish government relies on dubious proof to make its case against him.
That case alleged Gulen issued coded orders to followers in the Turkish judiciary in a 2009 sermon to persecute members of another religious sect. It also alleged that the script of a popular Turkish television show was laced with follow-up messages. The case was dismissed by a judge in June.
Robert Amsterdam, whose firm represented the plaintiffs who were allegedly persecuted by Gulen's followers, said the case was dismissed on procedural grounds before his attorneys had the chance to present compelling witness testimony.
"Had we had time to develop the case, absolutely, there was a tremendous amount of (additional) evidence," Amsterdam said. He declined to discuss Turkey's evidence that Gulen was involved in the coup attempt.
The Turkish government's evidence that Gulen orchestrated the failed coup "probably" include alleged coded messages similar to those cited in the 2015 case, said Taha Ozhan, the head of a delegation of Turkish lawmakers who are in the United States this week to call for Gulen's extradition.
Turkey has sent the United States new documents in recent days containing evidence that Turkish authorities say proves the cleric was behind the attempted coup.
(Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and James Dalgleish)